Undoubtedly, this will go down as John McDonnell’s ‘Socialism with an iPad’ speech, but there’s a lot more to it than that.
So much more, in fact, that This Writer is going to have to attempt to pull out the main points and point you to the rest.
Mr McDonnell was giving his speech at Imperial College, and it was intended to be a warning shot at George Osborne, ahead of the chance(llo)r’s Autumn Statement. Here’s what he said:
Technological advance is forcing the pace of change. Bank of England research suggests that 15 million jobs could be at risk of automation over the next decade or so. And those most at risk from automation are the lowest-paid.
For those who own the robots, of course, it will be a different story. Wealth will flow faster into fewer hands. A minority will continue to profit immensely.
Our giant corporations are enjoying a boom time, taking their biggest ever slice of our national income as profits. Corporation tax, already the lowest in the G7, has been cut again and cut, heading towards just 18%.
Featherbedding, through a wildly complex system of tax reliefs that now comes to £110bn a year.
Cutting HMRC, while turning a blind eye to rampant tax avoidance and evasion, running into billions.
Some of the most powerful institutions in the land appear to act almost unhindered. Think about how little has been done to get even our publicly-owned banks to clean up their act since the crash.
We already have the most repressive union laws in Western Europe. The Trade Union Bill will tighten the screw still further.
No formal provision exists for workers to have a say in decisions that affect not only their own lives but potentially those of their customers.
As a share of GDP, public infrastructure spending has fallen from 3.3% in the final year of the last Labour government to 1.6% today. It is scheduled to fall still further, to 1.4%.
Meanwhile, our major corporations, despite record profits, are sitting on vast cash piles. At least £400bn is held in corporate bank accounts – money that should be invested. Meanwhile, dividend payments are at an all-time high.
So we have a government that won’t invest and corporations that won’t invest, a damaging cycle setting up the generations ahead for failure. The consequences of this failure are all too apparent. Underpaid and overworked staff. Insecurity. Businesses unable to compete. Basic utilities under threat.
The National Grid has warned of electricity shortages. This in Britain, in 2015 – the sixth richest economy on the planet.
Clearly, some of this has got back to Osborne. In a state of panic, he has been running around China trying to drum up funding. Osborne opposes nationalisation – except when it’s the Chinese or the French state doing it. Short-termism and antipathy to the state dominates every decision.
A new contract for the workplace means securing a better balance between those who work, and those who employ. We will open a review on workplace representation, drawing on the best practice from around the World to unlock democracy in our workplaces and release its creative potential.
We will seek to break open the monopolies and oligopolies that dominate our essential industries, offering extended support to those seeking to set up co-operative and community ownership of their companies and assets.
We need to think about how government can operate on the basis not only of providing necessary public services, but also to meet challenges in the future. That is why we have launched reviews of the mandate of the Bank of England, and the Treasury’s function, to report on how they can operate in the best interests of society.
Labour in government will bring together business, unions, and scientists in a new Innovation Policy strategy, with a mission-led goal to boost research and development spending, and maximise the social and economic benefits from that expenditure.
We want government to work with, not against, those entrepreneurs helping create wealth in society. But rather than investing for the future, Osborne has overseen a slump in government funding for vital infrastructure.
The OECD thinks that, as a minimum, a developed country like Britain should be spending 3.5% of GDP on infrastructure. Labour in power will meet and exceed that commitment, reversing decades of underspend. This could include renewable energy, energy efficiency, major public transport improvements and ultra-highspeed broadband.
A Labour Government would prioritise provision of patient long term finance for investment in research to support the technology that will drive future innovation in our economy.
And we would look to change our corporate tax system to give companies incentives to invest wisely.
A higher tax on retained earnings should be investigated, alongside improved deductibility for long-term investment.
Labour will seek a new compact with financial services, looking for guarantees on stable, long-term domestic investment, mobilising their skills and resources for the wider public benefit. We will retain, of course, the right to legislate if needed.
It is science, technology and innovation that are shaping our new world. Britain has an extraordinary and proud legacy of scientific research. But rather than build on that heritage, we are strip-mining it. Current expenditure on research and development has fallen by £1bn in real terms since 2010. The UK has no long-term plan to increase R&D spending.
The Royal Society recommends a target of meeting at least the OECD average spend on research and development by 2020. A Labour Government will aim to exceed this, with total spending – from both public and private sources – of at least 3% of GDP by 2030.
We will extend Labour’s Ten-Year Framework to cover the next decade and increase innovation support, ring-fencing this spending.
At present, employer after employer reports dire [skills] shortages. Further Education colleges, a vital lynch-pin of the education system, are threatened with swingeing cuts.
The widening gap between our richest places and the rest is clearly excessive. Average weekly pay in North-East Derbyshire is £389 a week while in the City of London it’s £921. Government’s response to this regional disparity has been persistently inadequate.
Planned infrastructure spending per person in the North of England is one-fifth of its level in London. We won’t get a “Northern Powerhouse” unless government is prepared to pay for it.
Improved transport, greater autonomy in taxation and spending decisions, and powers to borrow will enable our regions to meet their huge potential.
And of course we cannot allow government to strip local councils to the bone. Labour will continue to oppose the devastating cuts being made to local authority funding. Local authorities can, and should, be local engines of sustainable, long-term prosperity.
The insecurity of self-employment. The uncertainty of not knowing where, or when, the next paycheque will be coming from. And the pressure this places on those in more typical employment, whether it is London taxi drivers threatened by Uber or call-centre workers placed on zero-hour contracts.
Millions of workers excluded from the hard-won protections of formal employment contracts. And relentless pressure placed on those, the majority, still protected. Technological change, and the unfettered free market, are tearing up the old work contract.
Labour… will offer a new contract for a new workforce. Security of income against uncertainty. The same rights and protections extended to all those at work.
The tax credit system is well-adapted to new forms of employment. Small businesses, providing a useful service to the community, rely on the tax credits system to get them on their feet and smooth out their earnings. So we will defend and, where we can, improve the tax credits system.
Self-employment offers few protections. So we will look to extend maternity and paternity rights to all self-employed workers.
Austerity is a political choice, not an economic necessity. Unless we change our political choices, the vast majority will be denied the opportunities that technological change presents. We can’t afford to run a deficit with the future.
Working with businesses, workers, and civil society, governments today can and must seize the chance to change how we live and work, both now and in the future. A prosperous society built on sustainable growth, and predicated on the values of fairness, equality and social justice.
It’s socialism, but socialism with an iPad.”
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